Software-as-a-service (SaaS) allows companies to focus on innovation by providing the infrastructure and tools necessary to develop applications on-demand.

So says, Salesforce’s Doug Farber, the Vice President of Operations, Asia Pacific.

We sat down with Farber to talk about the benefits of using the SaaS model and how developers can take advantage of cloud computing on the company’s platform.

Salesforce is a provider of on-demand customer relationship management and on-demand applications. Its platform offers developers the necessary infrastructure to build business applications on-demand.

Farber said there were two fundamental aspects of SaaS: multi-tenancy and pay-as-you-go.

Multi-tenancy is being able to manage multiple users on a single infrastructure. Examples of companies that manage all their information and users on a single infrastructure are Google, Yahoo and eBay, he said.

“That allows them to be extremely flexible to that whole base and being able to propagate changes to drive innovation and keeping that transparent to the end users,” he added.

Farber said, for instance, the Yahoo mail interface can be changed entirely overnight and “suddenly everything is brand new and much more usable,” without the user having to install anything themselves.

Pay-as-you-go or subscription-based service makes the vendors accountable for the service they’re providing.

“Subscription changes the whole client-vendor relationship. Suddenly we have to make sure our customers are really happy and really successful or they leave,” he said.

There is a major mental shift, Farber said, and customers feel more empowered, because they can contribute to Salesforce’s development platform and even to the direction of the company.

Farber said there were a number of advantages to using the SaaS model.

“SaaS is the future of our industry. It’s where things are going,” he said.

One key advantage of SaaS is the fact that it allows companies to focus on innovation. “We are able to really focus all of our effort on one platform, simply because we don’t have to worry about things like backwards compatibility, for example, or porting”. This in turn allows Salesforce to innovate quickly, he said.

When asked how SaaS removes the need for developers to worry about hardware, Farber responded, “it basically removes a level of complexity in infrastructure so that developers and ISVs can focus on innovation rather than back-office plumbing. A lot of the back-office functions are expensive and time-consuming and distracting, quite frankly from the key innovation drivers”.

Farber said by putting an application on an SaaS platform, developers are able to focus on coding, without having to worry about the infrastructure. Salesforce provides the hardware, software, networking and built-in security mechanisms.

“Software-as-a-service, which we’re now calling Platform-as-a-Service, PaaS and also Development-as-a-service is about leveraging the cloud and giving people access to unlimited computing power, developer power, plenty of user utilities and infrastructure for any of their ideas,” he added.

Salesforce also provides developers with a database and integration on demand, logic, user-interface and an application exchange.’s Development-as-a-Service package comes with an API, IDE, Code Share and a Sandbox, a development environment for testing purposes.

An advantage of the Salesforce development environment is that you don’t necessarily have to be technical to create objects and components, Farber said. Even business users such as sales managers can add fields and workflows into the system. For those who are technical and want to go beyond Web customisation, they can create their own applications using Apex. Apex is a programming language developed by Salesforce, that much resembles Java and SQL and uses triggers and procedures.

“It provides a much more native interface to our particular infrastructure,” he said.

He said with Visualforce developers have the ability to customise the user interface within Salesforce. For instance, they can strip out unwanted tabs and display limited information only to accommodate the device the information is being viewed on, whether it is their Blackberry, tablet or iPhone.

The AppExchange contains over 750 applications. In addition to being able to build their own applications, customers can use or customise modules that have been developed by Salesforce’s own development groups or other customers. Some of the applications are available free of charge and some of them are chargeable.

He claimed, the reason Salesforce has been so successful, particularly in Australia is because it offers 30 day trials, allowing customers to test drive the applications. Previously in the IT world that wasn’t possible, because all the gear needed to be purchased and set up, so building a prototype was an expensive undertaking.